Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Who is your high priest?”

Message preached October 18, 2015
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Hebrews 5:1-10

Order of Worship

Listen to this sermon (mp3)

            Who or what is your “high priest?” Before you give a simple answer, think with me for a minute, about what a “high priest” might be. That phrase isn’t exactly a part of our everyday vocabulary. We don’t go around thinking about high priests, do we? In fact, for those of us raised in a Protestant church, the word “priest” seems pretty foreign.

            Still, who or what is your “high priest?” Maybe I should define the term first. That’s not easy to do, though, because it can easily become enshrouded in the mystery of a religious practice from long ago, something which no longer has much relevance in our 21st century world. After all, if we were to ritually slaughter and burn animals on an altar in this day and age, not only would we have animal rights activists breathing down our necks, followed by civil authorities ready to haul us into jail, but we’d also become the laughingstock of our community. It’s just not done. Right? Isn’t that what a high priest was supposed to do, though, according to the Bible?

            Back in those days, it was politically and religiously correct to bring your offering (which wasn’t enclosed in an envelope and placed in a plate passed down the pew) to the Temple to be burnt on the altar in the Holy of Holies by the high priest. Your offering may have been some kind of grain. It also could have been a bird, or a lamb. That part of this “high priest” business seems as relevant today as turning a crank on the front of your automobile to get it started. But, you know, cars still have cranks, and I’m not talking about back seat drivers. We may not call them “cranks” anymore, but the process is still basically the same, isn’t it. Now it’s done by computer relay, initiated by a little key in the dash. But great-grandpa did about the same thing when he turned the shaft by hand.

            We may not be able to relate to ritual sacrifices, thinking them to be only for satanic cults in this day and age, but the purpose of a high priest goes beyond such practices. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews pulls out some of the essentials to this thing called “high priesthood.”

Every high priest chosen from among mortals,” it says “is put in charge
of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins
(Hebrews 5:1).

A “high priest,” then, is someone (or something, I might add) we choose to invest with authority to deal with the darker aspects of our existence. No matter who or what our god may be, or how we spell “sin,” every person has some kind of high priest. So, who or what is yours?

            Again, don’t give me a simple answer. You may be forced to eat your words. The truth is, there are lots of high priests out there. We just don’t call them that. Perhaps the most obvious may be the person to whom we turn for counseling. In fact, in ministerial lingo, we call such help a “priestly” function. Even folks who do not profess any belief in God seek out such high priests. Only they call them Psychiatrists. Psychotherapy involves dealing with your darkness. And there is nothing wrong with seeking out such help. It is important, though, to recognize what authority you place in this high priest.

            Another example might be an accountant, of greater or lesser position. Here the darkness involves such things as debt. Along these lines, I’ve often wondered why they call those rectangular, plastic things we carry in our wallets and purses, “credit” cards. In actuality, they are “debt” cards. The moment we use them, we are in debt to the one who is extending us their (not our) credits. A case could be made that these little cards function in a high priestly sort of way. We give our “offering” on a monthly basis as we pay our bill, with the hope of someday reconciling our balance from negative to positive.

            Who or what are some other “high priests” around us? These are persons or things we choose to invest with authority to deal with our darkness. How about our court system? In prisons we seek to put away the darker element in our society. We may see the high priest as the policeman, the judge, the lawyer, the jury. Or the high priest may be that blind lady holding the scales of justice. Even though it’s no longer a Model T, it’s still a crank that gets it going.

            The list of potential high priests out there is endless. Can you think of any more? Up until recently, most of the newer models have been of the secular variety. But the need to deal with the darker aspects of our existence is great, and it’s a spiritual matter at heart. New religions have been created for this purpose, and old ones resurrected, some of whom are not afraid to use the old lingo. Their leaders may outright call themselves “high priests” or “priestesses.”

            So, therefore, I ask, again, my question: Who or what is your “high priest?” Is it as easy to answer as it was when I first raised it? When the letter to the Hebrews asserts that Jesus Christ is our high priest, it is not giving a simplistic answer. There are many “high priests” out there. On the one hand, this letter to the Hebrews contrasts the Levitical priesthood, that is the Temple folks in Jerusalem back in that day and age, with another kind of priesthood, the suffering servant named Jesus.

            Like the Levitical priests, Jesus could associate with the weaknesses of people when coming to God with the darkness of human sin. But his real authority came out of his willingness to be the sacrifice, not merely the sacrificer. He submitted himself, and took this darkness upon himself. When we now speak of Jesus as being our high priest, we are saying he broke the mold. Because the Son of God became the sacrificed lamb, such sacrifices are no longer needed. No other high priest is necessary now. There’s no need for another intermediary, someone to step between God and us to deal with our darkness. Jesus continues to fill that role.

            When, as part of Love Feast two weeks ago, we broke and ate the bread of communion and drank from the Lord’s cup, we remembered that his sacrifice long ago continues to be effective for us today. He is our high priest. He is also, we claim, the lamb who was slain. He is the sacrifice himself.

            As I said, there are many “high priests” out there. This letter to the Hebrews not only spoke to the “traditional” religions of that day, it also had something to say about other “new” religions sprouting up in the Mediterranean world 2,000 years ago. The character of Melchizedek and angels figure prominently in the letter. Recent archeological studies of that time period have discovered evidence of religious movements, not unlike many of our present “new age” groups, who placed a lot of stock in angels and cryptic figures like Melchizedek. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

            The basic message of this New Testament letter, in light of all the angel and Melchizedek stuff is the same: Jesus Christ is our high priest. That’s something we need to keep in focus as we turn to all these other potential high priests around us. They aren’t true high priests. Jesus is.

            Having said that, let me remind you of something.  Jesus, our high priest, freely shares his authority. Scripture proclaims that through him we have direct access to God. In him, we are all priests. You and I can approach God in prayer anytime, anywhere, about anything. The human body, we say, is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The human heart is the true altar. In prayer, we come into God’s presence. As we confess our sins before the Lord, the ways in which we have fallen short, how we have messed up - knowingly or beyond our awareness, we are dealing with the darker aspects of our existence. Let’s not kid ourselves, none of us is without sin.

            However, when we assert that Jesus is our true high priest, we are saying - first of all - that he is present with us as we approach God’s altar. Jesus stands with us when we pray. He is with us there at this “inner altar,” if you will. Now, we’re not sacrificing grain or some animal there, like those priests of old. But we are being honest about ourselves. When Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” he was exposing the lies we tell ourselves.  You can make all sorts of sacrifices for God, after all, but if you’re living under a lie, what good is it? To thine own heart be true, the old adage goes.

            Standing with us, our true high priest - Jesus - helps us come before our God, just as we are. We are welcomed into the “holy of holies,” if you will. It’s not because we’re perfect that we’re welcome there, mind you. It’s because this true high priest, who knows full well our weakness, is himself (scripture says) the sacrifice. He is the lamb who was slain - once, and for all. The lies, the sin, the crud, the mess, the darkness of who we are as God’s people - who we are as human beings - Jesus has taken upon himself. His death bought our freedom. We can move beyond our sin.

            Now, this coming to the altar is not just an individual process, something that happens only between God and “me.” Through Jesus, we are empowered to be priests to one another. There is a priesthood of all believers. Not just some, but all. We help one another to be honest with God, and to be honest with ourselves. The New Testament letter of James links such truth-telling to health.  Confess your sins to one another,” he wrote, “and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (5:16). We’re in this together ... with Jesus...

Turn in your bulletin to the Responsive Prayer on the insert,
and let us “Confess our sins to one another,” with the prophet Isaiah as our guide:

            Now, rise in body or spirit and let us sing #539 in your hymnal: “Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.” As you sing, please note that the second verse makes use of the metaphor of a clock, which “has no spring of action sure – it varies with the wīnd.” It refers not to the movement of air (as in “wĭnd”), but to an action now accomplished through use of a battery, not by hand – sort of like the crank on a car.

©2015 (revised and reused from 2003) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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